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Lessons from eMerge: The Communication Decency Act, A Tool Against Cyberbullying

Cell Phone - iStock_000043766246_Large (1)The 3rd annual eMerge conference hosted a list of speakers as diverse as Miami. Among them, Colin Powell, Tony Hawk, Pitbull, and Monica Lewinsky. Just last year, Ms. Lewinsky broke her public silence when she gave a well-received talk at the TEDTalks conference, “The Price of Shame,” a call to end cyberbullying.

There, she told the crowd that “At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss… and at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences.” In a world where internet humiliation and cyber bullying is all too common, Ms. Lewinsky reminded listeners that she was patient zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously, due in large part to the magnification power of the internet.

At eMerge, Ms. Lewinsky again addressed the packed standing room crowd about the scandal brought to us by the digital revolution – and the shame that came with it. One person’s shame has become another’s profit, she noted. A marketplace has emerged – “the more shame, the more clicks.”

Cyberbullying is an all too real, devastating part of our internet culture. While there are roadblocks to victims seeking relief, including the fact that internet anonymity makes it difficult to discern the original speaker, there are avenues to justice. One such tool is the Communication Decency Act. Under this Act, while a plaintiff cannot bring suit against an internet service provider, they can against an information content provider. And since one New Jersey case required a rather high threshold to be met in order to compel internet service providers to disclose a defamer’s identity, it is generally easier for a victim to bring suit against the publisher of the internet defamation as opposed to the defamer.

To be considered an information content provider, the provider must pass along content and add its own content as information. Consider Perkins v. LinkedIn Corporation, a California case where the operator of a social media website was allegedly responsible, at least in part, for creation of e-mails reminding users’ contacts to connect on a website. Thus, the operator was an “information content provider” even though users provided their names, photographs and e-mail contacts for the purposes of the operator sending the initial e-mail to contacts, where users allegedly did not consent to reminder e-mails being sent to contacts and the operator designed text and layout of reminder e-mails.

To the contrary, a social networking site was considered a service provider, and immune from suit when it provided information to “multiple users” by giving them computer access to a computer server, the servers that hosted social networking website, and when users browsed the site and reviewed pages of other users, they did so by gaining access to information stored on website’s servers.

The digital revolution has indeed changed our world, from the way we receive news to the way we communicate. With just one click, an anonymous cyber bully can communicate hurtful words that are read around the world. However, that click need not be the end of the story. The Communication Decency Act, among other options, provides victims of cyber bullying with real solutions to confront the sites that facilitate cyberbullying. Through this Act, the defamed, not the defamer, can determine the narrative.

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